Nestor, Agnes (1880–1948)
Nestor, Agnes (1880–1948)
American trade unionist and labor reformer. Born Agnes McEwen Nestor in Grand Rapids, Michigan, on June 24, 1880; died in Chicago, Illinois, on December 28, 1948; one of four children of Thomas Nestor and Anna (McEwen) Nestor; attended public and parochial schools in Grand Rapids through the eighth grade; never married; no children.
Awarded honorary Doctor of Laws degree from Loyola University (1929); was vice-president, International Glove Workers Union (IGWU, 1903–06 and 1915–38); served as secretary-treasurer, IGWU (1906–13); was general president, IGWU (1913–15); was director of research and education, IGWU (1938–48); was a member of the National Women's Trade Union League (WTUL) executive board (1907–48); served as president, Chicago WTUL (1913–48); was a member, National Committee on Federal Aid to Education (1914), Woman's Committee of the United States Council of National Defense (1918), Illinois Commission on Unemployment and Relief (early 1930s), and Illinois Minimum Wage Law Advisory Board (1935). Publications: several articles and an autobiography, Woman's Labor Leader (1954).
When Agnes Nestor began working in Chicago's Eisendrath Glove Factory, she was a frail-looking 17-year-old. Frequently ill, Nestor was soon moved by the exploitative conditions of her industry to lead her fellow women workers out on a ten-day strike in 1898. Under her leadership, the strike was successful. No longer would the workers have to pay "machine rent" to their employer, and the union was recognized. Four years later, in 1902, Nestor was a delegate to the founding convention of the International Glove Workers Union. She would serve the IGWU in a variety of leadership positions the rest of her life.
Agnes Nestor joined the Women's Trade Union League (WTUL) in 1906. The WTUL was a cross-class alliance of women interested in bringing trade unionism and education to working-class women, as well as an advocate of legislation protecting working women. Nestor was one of the few working-class women who rose to prominence within the WTUL. In 1907, she joined the national executive board and in 1913 she became president of the Chicago branch. She would hold both positions until her death in 1948. Although she saw trade unionism as the best protection for all workers, Nestor recognized that for a variety of reasons fewer women than men joined unions. Therefore, she was also an advocate of protective labor legislation which would improve the conditions of labor for women regardless of their union status.
In 1909, at the request of national WTUL president Margaret Dreier Robins , Nestor testified before the Illinois legislature on the need for restriction of hours for women in industry. An impassioned speaker, Nestor testified that her own poor health was the direct result of working twelve or more hours a day, six days a week. In 1909, the Ten-Hour bill became law in Illinois, in large part due to the efforts of Agnes Nestor. Two years later, she won the fight to have the bill extended to cover women in retail and clerical work as well as in manufacturing. Nonetheless, the Ten-Hour bill was itself a compromise, as Nestor and other supporters had originally asked for an eight-hour day. The eight-hour day would not become law in Illinois until 1937 and once again Nestor played a key role in seeing that legislation to passage. Small in stature (5′ tall) with delicate features, Nestor would be referred to as a "factory girl" even as a grown woman. She was at the same time recognized
as a tireless advocate for the improvement of working conditions for women.
Conn, Sandra. "Three Talents: Robins, Nestor, and Anderson of the Chicago Women's Trade Union League," in Chicago History. No. 9, 1980–1981, pp. 234–247.
Nestor, Agnes. Woman's Labor Leader. Rockford, IL: Bellevue Books, 1954.
Agnes Nestor Papers, Chicago Historical Society.
The National Women's Trade Union League papers, Library of Congress.
Kathleen Banks Nutter , Manuscripts Processor at the Sophia Smith Collection, Smith College, Northampton, Massachusetts